City man charged in teen's slaying described as 'a very passive person'

May 24, 1994|By Robert Hilson Jr. and Jay Apperson | Robert Hilson Jr. and Jay Apperson,Sun Staff Writers Sun staff writer Michael James contributed to this article.

William Norman is described by his father as a decent, even-tempered man who works full-time and seems incapable of harming anyone.

But according to Baltimore police, Mr. Norman, 29, is the man who pointed a rifle out a house window early Saturday morning and shot a 17-year-old in the back after the youth bumped into his truck and set off the theft alarm.

Homicide investigators said Mr. Norman allegedly fired when he thought someone was about to steal his car.

"I don't understand it. William is a very passive person, not wild or anything like that," said his father, William Norman Sr. "What he did was wrong. I feel very sorry for the young boy who was killed. This whole thing is a damn shame.

"But to just shoot someone like that? That's just not him," his father said. "All I can think is that he must have thought TC somebody was trying to steal the car."

The younger Mr. Norman was ordered held without bail yesterday, charged with first-degree murder in the shooting of Vernon "Beethoven" Williams. The teen-ager died on the street in the 4300 block of Clareway, a short distance from where he bumped into Mr. Norman's parked Toyota Forerunner.

Police said Vernon was "horsing around" with two friends on the street and that one of them pushed him into the car. The boys were walking away from the car when Mr. Norman allegedly fired seven to nine shots at them with a carbine.

The boys had no intention of stealing the car and had accidentally set off the alarm, according to police. Vernon's two friends dived for cover and were not shot.

"It's all because of a car alarm. This man had a weapon and wanted to use it," said Vernon's mother, Clarice Ball. "This made it more convenient for him to shoot it. I truly believe that if it wasn't the car alarm, it would have been something else."

William Norman Jr., convicted of misdemeanor theft in 1988, has been cooperative with police since his arrest. When they arrived to question him shortly after the shooting, he told officers, "You might as well put the cuffs on me," a state pretrial services official said at his bail hearing yesterday.

Mr. Norman also told the investigating officers that the rifle he used could be found under a bed in the house and that the bullets were on or in a nearby dresser, court charging documents said.

Mr. Norman, who lives in the 1800 block of E. Belvedere Ave., was visiting his girlfriend at her home on Claremont St. when he heard his truck alarm go off, the documents said. The girlfriend, identified as Linda Freeman, told police she went to the truck to investigate and within moments heard several gunshots.

When she returned to her home she saw Mr. Norman with a rifle in his hands, court records indicate.

The section of Claremont Homes where the shooting occurred is overrun with crime and drugs but has few shootings, residents said. Burglaries of the two-story, brick, single-family dwellings are common, and cars are often vandalized or stolen.

Tanya Bennett, who has lived in the development for four months, said young men often cluster and lean on cars parked along the side of Clareway Street or on small parking lots near the houses.

"But is that any reason to kill that kid? No," said Ms. Bennett, 28.

Ms. Bennett, who lives in the 4400 block of Clareway, said thieves stole a picnic table and grill from a neighbor's backyard recently. Pranksters also spray-painted a car.

"The crime is here, but it's more like the prank type of crime," Ms. Bennett said. "No guns, no nothing like that."

Ms. Ball, of the 2600 block of Loyola Southway in the Park Heights section of Northwest Baltimore, said her son lived with his father in the Claremont Homes housing development but stayed with her occasionally.

She described Vernon as a likable boy who hoped to play basketball. He earned his nickname "Beethoven" from his mother, who said she heard Beethoven's Fifth Symphony in her head as she was giving birth to him.

Ms. Ball said the reality of her son's death hasn't sunk in and that she still can't understand why a man fired shots over a car alarm.

She learned of Vernon's death from her oldest son, Bernard Williams Jr., who lives with her.

"He was just banging on the wall saying what happened. I didn't hear what happened until the third time he said it," she said.

"It shocked me -- it really did -- but I haven't begun to grieve."

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